|Chloe was standing with her back to the door, looking at a collection of photographs lining the mantelpiece. There were wedding pictures, photos of him and Karen and their friends in Nantucket and at the Jersey Shore, some of him and his father trout fishing in Canada, and a few of a family vacation in the Caribbean. She had not taken off her cloak, although the room was warm.
Can I take your coat? he said, his voice coming out too loud.
She turned, startled.
No, no. Im a little cold.
Is your drink okay? Can I freshen it for you?
Freshen it? She looked at him, confused.
He gestured towards her drink which was sitting, still full, on the coffee table. It was sweating, forming a wet ring on the dark wood. A pile of needlepointed coasters, a housewarming present from one of his mothers friends, sat unused a few inches away.
No, she said. Thank you. I dont drink.
David looked at the floor, then stepped to the coffee table, and lifted her drink. The wet ring stared at him accusingly. He looked around for something with which to wipe it up. He heard Karen upstairs, her movements louder than necessary. He pushed a magazine over the spot and took a slug of the drink. Although he had never before smoked, he suddenly wished he had a cigarette.
Your wife is mad, isnt she? Chloe said.
No, no shes fine, David said. Just a little surprised. She wants everything to be perfect when we have guests. You know how it is.
He dropped himself to the sofa and took another long swallow.
Everything looks beautiful to me, Chloe said softly. Youre lucky to have such a beautiful home.
David looked up. Chloes small dark form was like a stain in the middle of the yellow walls of the room, the flowered chintzes on the chairs, the sunlit reds and blues of the photographs behind her head, the white rug beneath her feet. Luck? he thought. What does luck have to do with it?
Sit, please sit, he said, throwing his hand into the air.
Chloe perched on the edge of a chair. David fumbled with the coasters, neatening the edges of the pile as if they were a deck of cards.
So, where are you living now? Tell me again what brings you to New Jersey.
Poughkeepsie. With my mother. Chloes voice was light and hollow, like air being blown through a thin reed. But she does not know where I am now.
Would you like to call her? I mean, to at least let her know youre here.
No. The syllable was hard and sudden. But her tone changed again to a whispery sing-song. Well, maybe later. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow things might be different.
The next morning, Karen rose early and left for work half an hour sooner than usual. David fumbled in the kitchen, making toast and coffee. Chloe was still asleep. He sat at the kitchen table and looked out on the lawn and dark yews that surrounded his house like an inverted moat. He reminded himself to call the lawn care service and ask them to trim the shrubs. He looked at his watch, checked the clock on the kitchen wall, listened to the sound of the refrigerator humming, considered catching a later train or calling in to work sick, stood up, took a sip of coffee, then sat back down again. He opened his briefcase and ripped off a sheet of yellow paper from a legal pad. He pulled a dark and heavy pen from a strap in the case and wrote, in his loose, scrawling hand:
Chloe: help yourself to breakfast, coffee, etc. My number at work is 212-555-6654, Ill try to get out a little early. See you later. David.
He left the note on the kitchen counter, rushed out the door, and drove to the station se he wouldnt miss his train.
On the train ride he tried to remember Chloes last name. It was something average, he kept telling himself. He replayed over and over in his mind the first time he met her, talking in the line waiting for beer, asking her what she though of the concert, noticing how pretty she was, how her eyes kind of worked at two different levels, the surface expression and then something else, something deeper down and inscrutable. He remembered handing her a beer, introducing himself, reaching out to shake her hand, watching her switch her beer from one hand to the other so she could take his, feeling awkward until she smiled and laughed. She had put per hand--it was very small and cold--into his, and she had said her name: Chloe. Chloe what?
It was something almost common, something that started with a D, a name that got lost in her laughter. Chloe D.... D.... He tapped his tongue against the back of his top teeth, making a quiet D sound over and over.
He remembered being struck by the unusualness of the first name coupled with the common last name. When he had remarked on it, she had told him that her mother wanted to name her something she had never heard of in Poughkeepsie. She hoped, Chloe had told him, that if she gave her daughter a fancy name, it would lead her to a fancy life.
David got to his office and worked vaguely for a couple of hours, wondering how to reach Chloes mother. Karen usually called around 10:00 just to say hello, chat for a few minutes. The call was usually a minor irritation. Today, it did not come. At 11:00 he called information and asked for the number of the Poughkeepsie Police Department. He fumbled with some papers on his desk for almost an hour, and then shut the door to his office before calling.
Poughkeepsie Police, a woman said.
||Hi, yeah, Im calling from New York. New York City, David said. I was hoping you guys could help me out. I ran into this woman last night. I met her once a long time ago, and shes from Poughkeepsie, and I think she may be in trouble, have run away or something. I thought maybe you guys might know something about her. Her name is Chloe. I dont know her last name. Im sorry. I wish I could be more clear. Shes in her mid-twenties, Id guess...
The woman cut him off. Yes, we know her. Hold on. The line was quiet. Then she came back. Im going to give you Mrs. Davies phone number.
Has she done anything? Is there anything I should know about her?
The woman told him hed have to call Chloes mother. David dialed the number.
Maam, David said to the woman who answered the pone, Im call about your daughter. I met her years ago, and then bumped into her last night. She is out at my house. She said she ran way or something. I wanted to let you know.
Oh, thank god, the woman said, her voice like an old door opening.
Where are you calling from, how far did she go this time?
David told her where he lived and offered to put Chloe on a train or a bus back to Poughkeepsie.
No, no, the woman said. Shed just get on the bus and get off at some other stop. She might not come home at all. I need to come get her. My brother will drive me down.
Mrs. Davies, David said, slowly enunciating each word. Is there anything I should know about Chloe?
David heard Mrs. Davies take a deep breath. She didnt know, she said. She didnt understand Chloe anymore. She was depressed and moody and wouldnt let her mother help her. She kept running away.
Excuse me, Mrs. Davies, David said. But, I mean, is there anything I should be concerned about?
There was a long moment of silence. If he would just giver her directions, Mrs. Davies said, she would come right down.
David hung up the phone and left work. The day was darkly overcast. He pulled into his driveway, turned off the car, and looked up at the house. The light was on in the upstairs bathroom window. The curtain, which Karen always kept closed, was pulled aide. Chloe stood, her naked body framed perfectly from head to knee in the window. She was rubbing her hands all over her skin.
Good, lord, David said out loud. What the hell is she doing?
He watched her, slender hands, long fingers, gently moving in swirls and circles over her body, not pausing or flinching as they passed over her breasts or buttocks. She was very thin--her skin looked like an article of clothing one size too large for her. But even in her thinness, she had small, beautiful round breasts, and a lovely curve to her hips and backside. Her hair hung in dark, wet strands around her shoulders and in her face.
Davids loins roused him again with an unfamiliar ache. He saw Chloe life a bottle and pour something into the palm of her hand. Karens skin lotion, he thought. Karen put it on, in the bathroom alone, before she came to bed each night. He hated the smell of that lotion, the sweet, fake floweriness of it, and the way it lingered on their bedsheets. His hands were resting in his lap, and he felt a vague stirring there. A strong desire to masturbate, right there in the car, came to him. The feeling was instantly replaced with embarrassed censure. I havent masturbated since I was a teenager, he reminded himself.
Besides, he said out loud. What if she looks out the window and sees me?